Along with Harley-Davidson, Triumph is easily the best-known motorcycle brand name in the world. Even non-motorcyclists know Triumph motorcycles, and many still equate them with images of a young Marlon Brando astride a Thunderbird in 1953’s The Wild One. Indeed, 30 years after his death, Hollywood icon and Triumph rider Steve McQueen is still so famously associated with the brand that his widow, Barbara McQueen, will be guest of honor at MidAmerica Auctions’ 2012 Las Vegas Antique Motorcycle Auction.
No motorcycle made Triumph more famous today than the Bonneville. Basking in the glory of Johnny Allen’s 1956 214.47mph record run at the Bonneville Salt Flats aboard Jack Wilson’s methanol-fueled, Triumph-powered “Texas Ceegar,” the Bonneville leveraged Triumph’s growing popularity with performance-hungry American riders.
Introduced in 1958 as a 1959 model, first-year Bonnevilles were actually shunned by U.S. buyers, who disliked the bike’s Pearl Grey and Tangerine paint and funky headlamp nacelle. Yet the twin-carb T120 (code named to suggest a 120mph maximum speed) quickly evolved into one of the most popular and best selling British motorcycles of all time. By 1967, Triumph’s U.S. sales exceeded 28,000, due largely to the Bonneville’s success.
With beautiful photos of 22 Bonneville variants supported by a well-researched and authoritative narrative on each, James Mann and Mick Duckworth’s new book explores the mystique and the facts of the Bonneville. A 1954 Tiger 110 lays the foundation, and from the Bonneville’s birth to its death in the dark days of the Meriden Cooperative in 1983 — and its subsequent 2001 rebirth under John Bloor’s revived Triumph — every facet of the model’s development is explored, and many surprises revealed. Did you know, for example, that the Meriden Cooperative built more than 400 eight-valve TSS models in 1983, or that Les Harris churned out a further 1,246 Bonneville 750s between 1985 and 1988?
Many of the models profiled are U.K.-spec, but that’s not surprising given the book’s British origin and should be viewed as an asset, providing American Triumph fans an opportunity to appreciate the differences between U.K. and export Bonnevilles. Curiously absent, however, is a 1971 oil in frame model, the Bonneville many purists still consider the beginning of the end for Triumph, although some riders consider them the best of the bunch.
A must for any student of Triumph history, Triumph Bonneville: Portrait of a Legend belongs in every Bonneville owner’s library. 239 pages. $49.95, Haynes Publishing. For more information and to order a copy, go to the MC Shop.